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Issue No. 145 19 July 2002  

Two Wings Flapping
The one element missing from the current debate about the relationship between the labour movement and the ALP is any discussion about what's in it for the unions.


Interview: In The Tent
The Australian Services Union's Martin Foley on the dilemma facing trade unions affiliated to the Labor Party.

Bad Boss: The Desk Nazi
Everyone�s mail is on the money this week. Yep, Australia Post, courtesy of the born-to-rule attitude so beloved by the Workplace Relations Minister has been nominated for the Tony Award.

Media: Hold the Presses
The withdrawal of mainstream news outlets from the reporting of industrial relations is playing right into the bosses' hands, writes Andrew Casey

Workplace: Putting Bullies In Their Place
Ever wonder where the schoolyard bullies from your formative years ended up? Chances are they are still making someone�s life hell in an Australian workplace today. Even worse, one of them might be your direct supervisor.

Industrial: Women and Work
The last fortnight may well prove a turning point for working Australian women and their families, argues ACTU President Sharan Burrow

International: Whine and Dine
The political and industrial wings of British labour are at each other's throats, reports Andrew Casey.

History: Black Adder
Old King Cole had good tutors. Roger Milliss captured the style of conservative government witch-hunts in Serpent�s Tooth, his cathartic apology to his father, Bruce.

Review: Bad Movie
While the search for Australia's worst boss is well underway, Joel Schumacher's Bad Company seems to point the finger squarely at the US Government - albeit accidentally.

Poetry: I Remember
Dermott Ryder knocks our Resident Bard off his podium this week with a little ditty about a bloke called Honest John


 Builder Blows Whistle on Kangaroo Court

 Alarm Over Unis in Detention

 Unions Spark New Super Push

 Abbott Trips on Entitlements - Again

 Picnic Day for Union Members Only

 Memo: John Travolta - Come Fly With Us!

 Cole Comfort to Bodgey Builders

 Unions Eye SA Casuals Victory

 Burrow: Paid Mat Leave Just First Step

 Mayne Warning � But Will They Listen?

 Drought Relief Should Extend To Rural Workers

 Coca Cola Action Bubbles Globally


The Soapbox
The Royal Circus
CFMEU organiser Terry Kesby gives a first hand account of his experience before the Cole Royal Commission.

The Locker Room
Bravely Running Away
Phil Doyle is bewildered by the Australian Cricket team�s reluctance to join John Howard�s War On Terror.

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess
As the world market lurches under the weight of its own amorality, regulators and business lobbies are locking horns over the need for more rules.

Week in Review
A Share of the Action
Sharemarket jitters produce mea culpas from the magnate set but, as Jim Marr discovers, loyal followers in the Howard administration aren�t likely to join the chorus any time soon.

 Make My Week!
 Real Reform
 Hooray for Frank!
 Reform or Die
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Women and Work

The last fortnight may well prove a turning point for working Australian women and their families, argues ACTU President Sharan Burrow


The last fortnight may well prove a turning point for working Australian women and their families. Probably for the first time in our history, paid maternity leave is a page one story.

Following the launch of the ACTU's model for paid maternity leave, there's been a chorus of support across the country from a diverse and powerful range of lobby groups.

Peak employer bodies such as the Australian Industry Group are telling the government it's not only economically achievable, it's also socially desirable.

The Federal Treasurer of the Liberal Party Malcolm Turnbull has taken the idea even further. He says career structures that don't recognise that many women are also mothers, are simply discriminatory.

Sisters, we hope we are on the cusp of a change that could open up a much broader examination of the way women are accommodated in the workforce, or more accurately, not accommodated.

In the year 2002 women expect to be treated equally.

But for all our modern expectations, it could just as well be 1962 when we examine the average workplace.

The way work is organised has not kept pace with a massive shift in the nature of families or the structure of the workforce. The majority of Australian workplaces are just not women friendly!

In terms of pay rates, hours, entitlements, maternity leave and basic childcare provisions, women - especially those with children - are very poorly accommodated.

There is still no such thing as equal pay. Women earn on average 67% of male earnings. That's 271 dollars less per week. Even in industries dominated by women, the gap is as wide as 54%. Women earn less across every single occupational group.

One reason for this enduring gap is that women have been marginalised from full-time work.

The percentage of women in full-time jobs has remained the static for 25 years, while growth in casual and part time jobs has rocketed. Nearly 30% of the workforce is now made up of casual workers. About 55% of all casual jobs are held by women, and more than 80% of them are part-time. That means all too many women receive no paid sick leave or annual leave, and enjoy no job security beyond the next shift.

During the 90s, 87% of the net jobs created paid less than $26,000 a year. More than half of those paid less than $16,000. You can bet your bottom dollar most of those jobs belonged to women.

With a growing proportion of low paid jobs, the two-income family is becoming a matter of necessity rather than choice.

On average women earn around 40 percent of the family earnings. Little wonder the decision to start a family is increasingly decided by economics. The lack of paid maternity leave for most women makes that choice even harder.

One of the most concerning trends is the decision to return too quickly after the birth of a child because economically the mother has no choice.

The loss of her income is simply not an option for the family.

This was borne out in a recent survey of 350 workers at a cosmetics company reported just this week in the Age.

Nearly 30% of new mothers went back to work at the company when their babies were between just 4 and 6 months old because they couldn't afford the luxury of staying at home.

Paid maternity leave would ease that pressure. Australia and the United States remain the only two countries in the OECD that still fail to provide it. So far, all we offer women is the right to12 months, unpaid leave. Our research shows many women would appreciate at least 18.

For women who choose to or are forced to return to work for economic reasons, access to decent, affordable childcare is a priority. Again this is not properly acknowledged with adequate funding of places or wages for childcare workers. Childcare is increasingly unaffordable at around $200 per child. Even where subsidies cut this in half, $100 per week per child out of a low wage means the majority of women with young children are working for very little take-home pay.

A new stress is emerging to complicate the working arrangements of women. Working women, often with young families, are increasingly looking after aging parents.

Many women find they are not entitled to carers leave or any other sort of leave, because they are employed as casuals. If they do have access, five days a year is rarely enough to split between the needs of children and parents.

Underlying all this is a fundamental lack of control over working hours.

Last year the ACTU commissioned research into the working lives of fifty families.

Among the women we interviewed, there was a sense that achieving a sustainable, even enjoyable, balance between work and family was unrealistic. There was a serious personal cost for those locked into long working hours and a serious professional compromise for those who opted to drop back to part-time, casual work.

The example of Wanda, a postal manager and mother, describes her life as a daily, double shift. She says:

" I've had fairly heavy health problems in the last two years, and I think it's because, if you take a typical day for me, I'm getting up at 5.30, getting lunches ready, getting the kids ready. I do all that before I get to work. I've got 20 staff here, I'm looking after them all day and then I pick up the kids around 6.30 and then it starts again. Got to get the tea ready, empty the lunch boxes, sit down with them with their homework. I don't actually sit down to relax until 9.

If you can get a happy balance between work and personal life you're pretty lucky. I think it just doesn't happen in the real world. Mine's just a chaotic life and probably the worst thing you can do is learn to live with it."

Long hours are regarded as an unchangeable fact of life for many workers including flight attendants, postal managers, public servants, teachers, strappers, journalists, paramedics and doctors.

Australia has the second longest working hours in the OECD, with the latest figures from the Bureau of Statistics showing that working hours have increased by two hours in the last year alone. On average we're working more than 42 hours a week. A quarter of the workforce is chalking up more than 50 hours. These hours would be illegal in Europe.

The greater the proportion of long-hour jobs in any labour market, the more female carers are forced onto what's called "the mummy track", which further entrenches disadvantages for women in the workplace.

"The mummy track" steers women into jobs that are regarded as second class: lower status and lower paid. Dropping back to part-time work is perceived as a demotion of sorts, a "downward" choice.

Sonya, a senior public servant, described her feeling of being compartmentalised for having cut back her hours, and the need to go back to working long hours to get her career back on track.

She says: "Having gone part-time its now like I'm in a certain compartment. There is certainly a change towards me, a perception that I'm focused on my family and not my career. I'm aware that if I wanted to get my career back on track, I'd have to go full time again. There's absolutely no way around that."


There's no question Australia needs to modernise its approach towards working women and the balance between work and family.

Work and family policies have to be developed to ensure families have a reasonable standard of living. We have to ensure both mothers and fathers are able to combine the raising of their children with gainful employment.

Policy responses need to integrate industrial relations, family, population and labour force policies. As a community we all need to take greater responsibility in recognising and providing for the needs of children.


The ACTU has identified 4 key phases or milestones in the lives of working families. The first is the birth of the child, followed by care in the early years. Next is the transition back to work, usually for the mother, and finally the challenge of managing work and family.

All of these require a range of flexible working and leave arrangements if we're to address some of the disadvantages women are facing.


Maternity leave is the first cab off the rank. And all the signs indicate the current groundswell of public demand will force the government to act on this issue sooner rather later. The only question is what kind of paid maternity leave scheme will be adopted.

The ACTU believes 14 weeks paid leave should be provided to all working women at the minimum wage rate of $431 a week, paid by the Commonwealth. With 45% of women earning less than $500 a week, it would cost employers very little to make up the shortfall.

In the case of women earning closer to average weekly earnings, (around $900 dollars a week before tax), the Commonwealth's contribution plus an employer contribution of less than one dollar a week per employee would be enough to match their earnings.

Small business would not be required to contribute.

The ACTU estimates that this model would give 87% of working mothers their full pay for 14 weeks leave.

All this at no extra cost to the federal government. In fact the ACTU's scheme would be 100 million dollars cheaper than the current baby bonus, which entitles low-paid women to less than ten dollars a week.

The ACTU model is modest compared with countries like Britain which is about to adopt 26 weeks maternity leave. It makes you wonder what Australian governments have got against motherhood.


The next phase for working families is caring for young children. For some mothers this will mean remaining at home. Others will choose to take up part time or return to full time work, often because they need the money.

Either way, those choices must be better catered for.

Those who stay at home currently have the right to 12 months (mostly) unpaid leave. However around half of those caring for babies do not return within 18 months. There are several reasons for this.

Many couples feel 12 months is not long enough in the initial phase of caring for a child, so one parent is forced to drop out of the workforce altogether.

Many would prefer to be covered by a longer period of maternity or parental leave. The ACTU believes maternity or parental leave should be extended to two years, offering women better job security and providing an opportunity for fathers to be involved in the care of young children.

Family payments must support this sharing of roles and at the very least, the current family benefits assumption of the single bread winner model must be revised.

This would also better reflect international standards. Two-thirds of OECD nations provide more than 52 weeks leave a year. A third provide more than two years.

Another reason women don't return after 18 months is the lack of flexible full time, part time or casual work. Unsuitable work, rigid hours and scant leave provisions make it difficult to accommodate family life.

To cap it off, the lack of good quality, affordable childcare is still out of reach for thousands of families. Some mothers have no choice but to remain at home.

The quality and cost of existing of existing childcare places is a major concern for working families. Staff-to-child ratios vary from state to state. Staff turnover is very high, around 30% a year. Long day care centres are reporting difficulty in attracting and retaining staff. Wages are low and opportunities for career development very limited in the childcare sector.

The ACTU believes increased childcare subsidies are required to provide quality services that are affordable for families and staff who are properly qualified and properly paid.

Childcare unions are working with the ACTU to develop work value and pay equity claims on behalf of childcare workers. New classifications incorporating a genuine career structure will need to be funded to avoid costs being passed onto parents.


The next phase for many women is the transition back to work. Around 50% return to work within 18 months with the majority of women returning before their child is aged four. Most would like to return part-time, however this is not an automatic right. The ACTU believes it should be.

Quality part-time work is an essential element in a package of choices that ought to be available to modern families. The European Directives provide some good principles on which Australian Governments could base legislation.


Successfully managing family and work is difficult in a system where parents are entitled to just five days paid leave a year. The ACTU believes a more flexible approach is required. An increase in carers leave and a more flexible approach to the use of total leave accrued is necessary.

In Britain, working parents are entitled to a maximum of 13 weeks unpaid leave until their child reaches the age of five. This leave comes on top of paid, annual leave and can be taken in blocks of four weeks. In addition, working parents are also entitled to unlimited, unpaid emergency leave. Low-income earners are eligible for family assistance during these periods.

In the United States, workers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid emergency family leave, every year.

Some companies in Australia are offering employees leave in addition to their holiday entitlement, paid for by a slightly reduced salary. This enables planning around family responsibilities such as school holidays. The model is often referred to as the 48/52 package.

The ACTU believes the British model and others should be thoroughly examined.

Control Over Working Hours

Control over working hours is often identified as a high priority by working mothers.

There are two policy options worth examining. The first is giving workers a choice in rostering, which is being considered in two Australian states. The other is a right to request a change in working hours to care for a child. This is being adopted next year in Britain.

Unions and workers will be able to bargain around both these options if the ACTU's Reasonable Hours Test Case is adopted by the Industrial Relations Commission next month.

The School Years

Many parents who recently returned from school holidays will be able to tell you there is a severe shortage of childcare places in many areas of Australia.

In after-school care alone, the government's own advisers have recommended an increase of 32,000 places. With the rising costs of childcare and child development places, we know that too many families are missing out on necessary support. The government has responded with no increase in funding in this year's federal budget.

The Commonwealth spends over $16 billion in family support payments. The range of payments is confusing and a number of the payments actively discourage families from making certain choices. Some, such as the baby bonus scheme, are inequitable and regressive. Others such as Family Tax Part B discourage female labour force participation. There needs to be a wide-ranging review of these payments to ensure consistency between work and family policies and support for the choices families make.


The Industrial Relations Commission should have a role in encouraging the industrial parties to implement work and family-friendly policies.

The Commission should be required to ensure that awards contain effective, innovative provisions that help workers combine work with family responsibilities, including provisions on flexible hours of work.

The Commission should be required to closely examine if proposed agreements positively assist workers to combine work with family responsibilities. In particular, the Commission needs to ensure that flexible hours provisions pass the no-disadvantage test - so no worker is penalised in seeking to balance their pattern of work with family considerations.


In conclusion, let me repeat that policy responses need to integrate industrial relations, family policy, population policy and labour force arrangements.

Managing work and family in twenty-first century Australia requires the development of a new framework of rights and obligations. Unions have identified workplace changes which are flexible, respect the choices that families make and recognise that parental participation in the workforce varies depending on the family composition and the age of children.

The ACTU and unions are committed to industrial and political campaigns to ensure genuine workplace policy reform.

Twenty-first century workplaces must become more women-friendly.

Speech to the third annual Victorian Women's Summit

Edmund Barton Centre, Melbourne


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